The best history books of October

Chris Schluep on October 22, 2020

The best history books of October

A history buff could be forgiven for feeling absolutely giddy about October. I describe four books below that are all standouts, but you should check out our full list of the Best History Books of the Month. (It's not all war and politics in the full list; there's music and food to go with more war and politics.) And be sure to check out the stellar biography of Malcolm X, titled The Dead Are Arising. That one could well become a classic.

The Zealot and the Emancipator: John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, and the Struggle for American Freedom by H. W. Brands

In this highly readable biography, Brands alternates between histories of John Brown and Abraham Lincoln, driving home just how much slavery was a part of the American fabric during their lifetimes. Although they never met, Brown—who believed God had chosen him to free the slaves—committed violent acts that would help to upend Lincoln’s attempts at political moderation. Brown’s activism ended at Harpers Ferry—but he became a martyr to the North and demon to the South, as the nation lurched toward Civil War.

The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser

The country has changed a lot since James Baker was running Washington and U.S. policy across the globe. Baker served under four presidents, and his understated command of how Washington worked was indispensable to the men he served. He was the consummate deal maker and Washington practitioner, a fascinating man who spent decades running policy and relationships. Among his accomplishments, Baker managed five presidential races, served as chief of staff to Ronald Reagan, and was as consequential a secretary of state as Kissinger. 

Eleanor: A Life by David Michaelis

Eleanor Roosevelt's story is one of determination and self-definition. Author David Michaelis has written the full life of Eleanor, from her beginnings as Teddy Roosevelt's niece, to her marriage to fifth cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to her development into a fully realized political figure. This is the first complete biography of Eleanor Roosevelt to come along in decades, and it breathes life into one of the most interesting and perhaps misunderstood figures in America's political history.  

Philip and Alexander: Kings and Conquerors by Adrian Goldsworthy

One of the joys for any reader of classical history is seeing another Adrian Goldsworthy book on the horizon. In Philip and Alexander, Goldsworthy examines one of the more interesting father/son combinations in history. Alexander the Great created a vast empire, crushing others along the way. But the armies he led had been built by his father, Philip. When Philip inherited Macedonia, it was on the verge of collapse—but he wound up laying the groundwork for his son's future success. Together, Philip and Alexander were kings and conquerors.

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